January 9, 2022
Isaiah 43:1-7 Psalms 29 Acts 8:14-17 Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Today is not only the first Sunday of Epiphany, it is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Thus, our gospel lesson is Luke’s account of Jesus coming to John the Baptist at the Jordan to be baptized. It begins with the people asking John if he is the Messiah. He answers them saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
It says very little about Jesus’ baptism. Instead it focuses our attention on what happens afterwards when Jesus is praying. We are told the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends upon him in bodily form – like a Dove. Then a voice from heaven says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In other gospel accounts, the voice speaks to everyone saying “This is my son . . . .” Here; however, the voice is directed to Jesus and we do not know if anyone else hears what is said.
I like each account of his baptism because each focuses our attention on a different aspect of what takes place. “This is my Son” focuses our attention on the people’s experience. But, “You are my Son,” focuses our attention on how Jesus experiences his baptism. In Christianity, baptism is one of the two sacraments that all denominations observe – the other is communion. The sacrament of baptism symbolizes the beginning of our life in Christ.
In baptism, we, like Christ, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who is to guide us in answering our call to minister to others. For Jesus, his baptism is a rite of passage. It is the beginning of his public ministry. We know very little about his life before. We have only a couple stories of his childhood in our Bible – though there are other stories that have been found in ancient transcripts. I have a book that contains some of these that did not make it into our Holy Scripture. A couple of these stories stick out in my mind from having read it years ago.
The first is of Jesus playing in a creek shaping the mud and clay into doves. Someone sees him doing this and reports it to Joseph, for it is the Sabbath and it is forbidden to work on the Sabbath. As Joseph approaches, Jesus gets rid of the evidence by bringing the birds to life and having them fly off. I’ll be the first to say that this story offers no theological insight into the person of Jesus or today’s lessons – but it may be the only thing you remember from my sermon.
Here’s one more story. Jesus is playing with his friends on the roof of his house when one of the boys falls off and dies. The other boys run away and only Jesus is there when the adults come. Jesus is accused of pushing the boy off the roof. Jesus raises the child from the dead in order to have him tell the adults that Jesus did not push him. If nothing else these stories can get our imaginations going as to what it was like to raise Jesus as a child – a human child who did not want to get into trouble for something he did or did not do.
Today’s gospel marks the transition Jesus must make from his private life (his life that was not reported in our gospels past his birth and the one trip to the temple) – from that life to his public life of ministry. From his baptism forward, much has been written of his deeds, his teaching, his death, and his resurrection.
Luke focuses our attention on Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit and hearing his Father’s call. It is not a call in the sense of God telling him what he was to do. God’s call to Jesus is one of reassurance. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It is important for all of us to know who we are, and for us to feel the love and support of our creator.
A sacrament is defined in our prayer book as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” The water of baptism is a sign; it is a symbol and a reminder of what has already taken place in our hearts. We have been accepted for who we are because we are children of God and we are beloved. God’s call to us is to be who we were created to be. God calls is a reminder that we are God’s beloved. What does it mean to you to be beloved?
I think that when we know we are loved, when we feel loved, we speak and act in ways that reflect the love we have received. And, with the love of Christ within us, we seek to make a positive difference in the world around us. We are more tolerant of others and quicker to forgive. God’s love is offered to us, but we must be willing to receive it.
For some of us, accepting love is difficult. Remembering our sins, we feel unworthy of the love of others and of God and so we resist love. The baptism that John is offering at the Jordan is a ritual of repentance in which the people are cleansed of their sins. It is a sign that they are committing to changing the direction of their lives.
Jesus may not have been there to be cleansed of his sins – but he is there to change the direction of his life. He is moving from preparing himself for his ministry to answering God’s call. From this point forward his life will reflect God’s love for humanity.
For us who may not feel worthy of God’s love, the baptism of our Lord is a symbol of what it means to repent. It is time to turn to God’s love and stop running from it. We will never earn God’s love – we already have it. The words spoken to Jesus are for us as well. We are all God’s children, we are all beloved. May our lives now reflect God’s love.
Let us pray.
In the waters of baptism, we have been washed clean and raised from the death of sin into the life of Christ. Help us, O Lord, to live our lives as a reflection of your love so that others who are running from you may find their way to the way of love that Jesus teaches. Transform our hearts and minds that we might see others as you see them, as members of our family. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.